A few weeks ago I decided to write a piece on blurring of the Tibetan flag in the movie Rockstar. As I was still working on it, news broke of some political activists protesting the Wikipedia conference being held in Mumbai. This was because Wikipedia shows a realistic map of India on its website. The said version of the map is banned by the Indian Government so as to not hurt “nationalist” sentiments.
While I was trying to incorporate that story in my article and make it about the larger issue of censorship, the government decided to ban smoking in films. Why? Because it is illegal (as Aamir Khan rightly said, are rape and murder legal?). Somewhere in between, Ramanujans’ essay on 300 versions of Ramayana was dropped from the Delhi University’s course bowing to the pressure of some people who care about what is taught in Universities (tolerance not being one of them). I, like most of you, have only heard of Ramanand Sagar’s version. By time I finish writing this article I am pretty sure that the government would have banned more things than there are versions of all of India’s ancient texts combined!
First things first, this is the correct map of India: Click Here
This is the version by the Indian Government taught to us in schools: Click Here
If you dispute the CIA version, just try going to Aksai Chin or Gilgit-Baltistan. You can freely go to any part of India right? Now that you know what our country looks like, we can proceed. Going by the veracity with which the government bans pieces of art and literature, you would be forgiven to think India is an intolerant country. Or it is overly sensitive. So sensitive that we refrain from showing the Tibetan flag in OUR movies so that the Chinese would not feel bad. Sensitive to religious, nationalist, linguistic feelings; sensitive to everything except freedom of speech and expression.
Censorship is Unconstitutional
India has a history of curbing freedom of expression. Satanic Verses, the Da Vinci Code banned, M.F. Hussain chased out of the country, Bhandarkar Institute in Pune vandalized for helping an American author write a controversial book; the list is endless. It is quite ironic that a song about freedom, sung in front of people who are demanding freedom gets censored by a country claiming to be free.
Yes people forget that censorship is not only unconstitutional, but also contrary to the principles of democracy. A democracy requires people to express their opinions fearlessly. In case the opinions differ a consensus needs to be arrived at by the process of voting. For allowing people to give their opinion, they must be assured they will not be prosecuted for it, irrespective of who they offend. That’s why we are guaranteed freedom of speech and expression. If you censor and make whatever you don’t like illegal, you silence dissenting voices, and thus turning India from a democratic country to an autocratic one. This is unconstitutional!!!
Internet vs. Kapil Sibal
In the time it took me to write from the first paragraph to this one, India’s Minister for Communication and Information technology Mr. Kapil Sibal (a lawyer) announced that he would put all his law skills to use and censor the internet. By way of his announcement, apart from proving how faithful he is to the congress high command (which may have been his true intention), Mr. Sibal also proved how little he understands the way Internet works and what it symbolizes. Mr. Sibal says he wants to prevent anti religious content, but it is no secret that is actually wants to prevent anti Congress and anti “Gandhi family” content. Going through the content that pushed the ministry into action, I must say that political stature and power is inversely proportional to a sense of humor. Besides what is freedom of expression, without the freedom to offend? This time however, the government has bitten off more than it can chew.
Let’s be clear on one thing, the government cannot monitor whatever gets on the Web. Neither can anybody else. Also we can rule out a Pakistan style banning of words and whole websites. What the government can do is take down whatever has already been uploaded. India has about 50 million internet users now who are a part of a larger population which is angry with the corrupt government that Mr. Sibal’s ministry is a part of. Even if the government employs thousands of people who will sift through whatever the people put on the web, it is unlikely they will be effective. Also it is very easy for people to post data anonymously, as proved by various terrorist organizations.
Most websites like YouTube and facebook already have mechanisms to delete content that are derogatory or offensive to certain communities. If enough people report against a particular video or profile or a page, it will be removed. The question that is begging to be asked is how come it is only the politicians who are reporting against the caricatures, jokes etc. about Mrs. Gandhi and her son.
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